Saturday, 23 November 2013

Taipan I - Hong Kong & I

A trip to Hong Kong was on the cards, much for the fact that a friend of mine lived there, as much for the fact that I had never visited. An adventure was in mind and an adventure I was to have! 

As I boarded the bus fresh from work, after the pre-holiday treat of an M&S can of scotch and dry ginger, I was in jubilant spirits. There is nothing quite like the feeling of embarking into the unknown, a slight thrill of anticipation, a sense of the bizarre, definitely a positive feeling of seeing an old friend and experiencing something new.

Airport time. A bad mood throughout security was allayed by a very admiral steak and chips in the terminal followed by a stocking up of cabin necessaries: Rennie, travel toothbrush and Rowntree's Fruit Gums (although I'm disappointed to add - for my Facebook readers - there were very few greens in this pack!). 

The flight was so-so, passing as all flights do with a mixture of boredom, films and regretting that the air hostess is not some shaggable beauty! But such is life and while I came to terms with this unfortunate fact we landed early in the evening. Soon I was off the plane and making my way to Hong Kong Central. 


It sounds crazy but I had no idea what to expect from Q-. He had been very keen to ask me what I wanted to do before I arrived and part of me drew a blank. I was going to be staying with someone who knew the city well and was happy to be led around as much of the sites and sounds as my host was prepared to show me.

Following a quick shower and fresh set of clothes we set off into the night, for an evening of debaucherous behaviour - as only Hong Kong (HK) knows how to deliver...

Pop went the cork of a champagne bottle as I was poured a chilled glass of Veuve Clicquot, a sign the that holiday had truly started. And it was in this merry fashion that I started my birthday weekend. We were at one of Q-'s chums flats, a HK local and a very hospitable one at that, the drink flowed freely and I guzzled back the icy bubbles with gusto. Glug, glug, glug it slipped down the little red lane until I felt decidedly perky. Admirable considering my long flight. 

Aware that I was basing my drinking merely on a filthy bowl of congee from the flight, Q- thought that it was best that we get some grub to soak up the booze. My first taste of HK was to be an uber-trendy Vietnamese restaurant in the Soho district. plates of deliciously cooked chicken wings, succulent cubes of rare steak and fragrant pork kebabs were paired with refreshing salads and sticky rice, all of which was washed down with a couple of cold beers and lashings of fiery chilli sauce (not that sweet rubbish you get with frozen Thai fishcakes). 

Following dinner, in which we caught up on all sorts of gossip about the UK, old friends and mutual enemies we decamped to a stylish rooftop bar called Blackbird, here a jolly group of people and a - some might say foolish - decision to bypass my jet-lag with a night of heavy drink meant that following a few double Canadian Clubs I found myself in the main 'party' district called Lan Kwai Fong at 02:00 in the morning with the party very much in full swing. My memories are foggy of the evening but through a haze of lager and Jagermeister faces from the past seemed to drift by, passing through this gateway to the East, providing fleeting entertainment to me in my blotto'ed state. 

It was 07:15 when I staggered back into Q-'s apartment, semi-intelligible and reeking of cheap alcohol before crashing out on the sofa! 

Thus endeth the first day... 

I peeled my face off the bed and looked at my watch 15:30!!?!??! I had slept through the entire morning and most of the afternoon on literally my first day in Honkers. What a shocker! As I got to my feet a huge rush went to my head and I suddenly felt quite weary, I realised that I wasn’t quite as young as I used to be. Donning a very swish pink linen jacket and a fake pair of Wayfarer I made for the door and out into the humid Hong Kong evening.

The first port of call was a few drinks at a non-descript bar, it took a few beers to get me back into the general flow of things. But with the euphoric, hedonistic vibe of expats enjoying themselves surrounding me it wasn’t long before I had rallied and was ready for another night of electric excitement that only this city knows how to offer. There was plenty of time before the excesses caught up and a bite to eat was in order. 

We pitched up at a very non-descript door down a Soho street, and entered into a well appointed Sichuan restaurant, the name of which escapes me. Q- warned me against the fiery ‘Black Chicken’ (wings topped with a sauce that sounded like it was made predominantly of pungent dried chilli) so instead I opted for something a little more esoteric. My request for the eels in chili sauce made the eyes of the proprietor light up and he made a beeline to the kitchen to make my order a reality. It was beautifully fresh, with that slightly muddy flavour that only those who like these slippery little customers appreciate. This was accompanied by beautifully cooked pork and watercress dumplings with a spiky rice vinegar sauce and burning hot chili oil. Of course it was all washed down with lashings of beer and China tea. 

The night was still young and it was still an hour or two before the bars started to get crowded, so we decided to go and kill some time and set the world to rights with a fine cigar. Lily & Bloom is a stylish bar full of sophisti-cats in downtown Hong Kong. It’s one of those places where suited, open collared players drink martinis and chat to curvaceous beauties whilst a nodding DJ pumps out remixed bossa nova and swing classics. Heads turned as we two scruff-bags walked in and made for an unassuming door with a boar’s head on it, this was the smoking room. 

On entering we were greeted with a thick haze deliciously scented smoke, a sign that some good Cubans were being consumed on site! The entranceway to the room was piled high with boxes and boxes of the finest cigars, presided over by a rather overbearing gentleman looking to make a big sale on a prized box of Cohibas. As I am not a fan of this brand I was having none of it, and told him emphatically that I was not looking to sample one of his extra special ‘Behikes’ even if they ‘were’ one of the ‘best cigars in the world’. With a slightly dissapointed air he handed me a very admirable Bolivar Petit Belicosos and Q a Montecristo Petit Edmundo. We went and sat in an elegant, low lit room where our only other companions were a couple quietly enjoying the mellow notes and tones of whatever they were smoking. Settling down into our Chesterfields we ordered some of the hard stuff, a double Canadian Club on crushed ice for me a bucket of gin and tonic for him. It was a fantastic smoke, great setting and of course the conversation, perfected over 22 years of friendship was as usual, sparkling. 

Time passed so quickly that before we knew it the cigars were finished and we were on to our next destination, McSorley’s, a British pub in the heart of Soho to catch the second half of the rather uninspiring England vs Argentina match. Following a few more pints a decision had yet to be made on what entertainment would be provided for a Saturday night in Hong Kong, until one member of the group we had met up with declared that no holiday in this eastern city would be complete without a trip to a karaoke bar. I am sure that any one of you who has been to one of these locations can guess what happened next. Take a room full of twenty drunken people, buckets full of ice cold beer and a dubious playlist comprising of 80s classics, boy band cheese and 90s hip hop/R&B and you have a recipe for a great night and a number of strained vocal cords. Don’t ask me the name of the establishment as the night somewhat blurs into oblivion.

Before I knew it I was waking up back at Q-’s flat on the morning of the 10th November, my Birthday! My trip to Hong Kong had begun in style! 

Later in the week I will publish the second part of my trip, but for now...